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MARATHON (CBSMiami) — Monroe County hospitals are closing ahead of Hurricane Irma.

County officials announced all three hospitals in the Florida Keys would close, including Monroe County’s Trauma Star.

The hospital closings:
• Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon is closing at 7 a.m. Thursday.
• Mariners Hospital in Tavernier is closing at 7 p.m. Thursday
• Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West is closing on 7 a.m. Friday

Visitors to the Keys were told to hit the road and head north as a mandatory evacuation order for non-residents went into effect at 7 a.m. Tuesday. A resident evacuation order went into effect at 7 p.m.

Residents who have decided to stay boarded up and prepared for what the county’s emergency management said could be the “worst case scenario.”

c 130 evacuation 3 Hospitals Closing In Keys As Visitors & Residents Clear Islands

Thirteen patients are transported from the lower Keys on Sept. 6, 2017. They were taken to Alabama ahead of Hurricane Irma’s approach on this C-130 from the North Carolina National Guard. (Source: Capt. Ryan Johnson of Monroe County Fire Rescue)

“We’re expecting something big, which makes people nervous down here. All we can do is hope for the best,” said Henry Budi who owns a gas station in Marathon.

Budi is covering windows and wrapping pumps but hoping to remain open. Lots of visitors have already left, others are hoping to get off the island chain before the big rush.

“I was supposed to be getting up early this morning to scuba dive,” said George Northover. Northover and his wife Donna got up at 4 a.m. to pack and leave. They’re heading to Orlando.

“I’m not going to mess with it. I was ready to leave yesterday but he wanted to stay an extra day, but I put my foot down yesterday and said, “I don’t care! We’re leaving here tomorrow,” said Donna.

At the local Re/Max office in Marathon it’s is all about protecting real estate, getting the office shored up so everyone can leave.

“We’ll we’re doing a little shuttering here at the office,” said Re/Max employee Joanne Cook. “Last minute, our guy that’s supposed to do the second story bailed on us so we hauled in the crew and we’re getting things shuttered up.”

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Speaking at the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, Governor Rick Scott said it’s crucial if you’re told to leave, to do it quickly.

“I cannot stress this enough, do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott said. “Remember we can rebuild your home but we cannot rebuild your life. The storm is massive; the storm surge predicted will go for miles. This is a massive storm.  In some instances, it can cover homes and go very far inland.”

Martin Senterfitt, Director of the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, is sharing the same message.

“This is a life threatening killer storm,” said Senterfitt. “We can not over emphasize the importance of following the evacuation instructions.”

Emergency managers want tourists and residents alike to get out. They’re extremely worried about storm surge with such a powerful storm forecast to barrel through in just a matter of days.

“With a Category 5 coming at the Florida Keys we could be looking at wave heights that would literally put the ocean over the islands. We’re got to remember we’re an island community and islands go under water,” Senterfitt said.

Monroe County Mayor George Neugent told CBS4’s David Sutta that not leaving would be an “Irresponsible Decision.”

“If a rescue is needed for those people only interested in their own situation, we would have to call out first responders to rescue them and that’s not gonna happen once the storm is hitting,” Neugent said. “It would be a bad decision for people not to continue to observe the mandatory evacuation.”

When asked to compare Hurricane Irma to a past storm that hit the region, the mayor said no such thing exists.

“There is no comparison [to Hurricane Irma]. Hyperboles do not describe this storm because it is such a large and intense storm and its coming our way and the whole state of Florida is watching this. We need to get people out of here. That’s my message. You need to evacuate and get out of the path of the storm.”

All schools and government offices in the Keys have been closed through the weekend.

The Lower Keys Medical Center is evacuating its patients Wednesday night.

The patients will be taken by Monroe County Fire Rescue and Key West Fire Rescue to Naval Air Station Key West’s Boca Chica Airfield and transported to Gadsden Regional Medical Center in Alabama.

Monroe County’s two other hospitals, Mariners Hospital in Tavernier and Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon, will be making decisions on when to close Wednesday afternoon.

Based on the expectations of the current track, FIU will open a shelter for special needs people in Monroe County at 10 a.m. Thursday.

People must register on the Monroe County Special Needs at http://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/index.aspx?nid=148.

Also based on expectations of the current track, FIU will open a shelter for general population of Monroe County at 4 p.m. Thursday. This should be a last resort.

People should bring their own bedding, food, medication and toiletries. For what to bring at a shelter, go to http://www.monroecountyem.com/index.aspx?nid=120.

Monroe County’s pet-friendly, general population shelter will be at the E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds and Exposition and open at 5 p.m.

Pet owners should bring the pet’s food, medications and vaccination records.

Key West International Airport will close Wednesday night due to TSA’s security checkpoint ceasing the screening of airline passengers. All commercial flights at Key West International Airport will be canceled from Thursday morning until further notice.

General aviation will continue at Key West International Airport and the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport until conditions become unsafe.

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